Thursday, October 11, 2007

What is the magic that is associated with Glastonbury

The Tor
The myths associated with Glastonbury Tor are extraordinary. It has been called a magic mountain, a faeries' glass hill, a spiral castle, a Grail castle, the Land of the Dead, Hades, a Druid initiation centre, an Arthurian hill-fort, a magnetic power-point, a crossroads of leys, a centre for Goddess fertility rituals and celebrations, a converging point for UFOs.
These myths are still very much alive today, although they are constantly being built upon and undergoing change. This is not surprising, given that this 500-foot-high conical hill is a most striking and inspiring landmark – visible at vast distances and yet invisible at certain angles close-by.

The mythology of the Tor reaches so far back into ancient times that it is impossible to give it a beginning. But if we try to look beyond Christianity and beyond the Celtic Druids, we may discover some of the truth concerning its origins and purpose. New information and interpretations have been coming to light about what was previously dismissed as paganism. As each new cult or religion supersedes another, so it tries to blot out what came before – such is the nature of conversion. This is what must have happened in the case of Goddess worship, a way of life which existed all over the world until at least the fifth millennium BC.
The Goddess took many forms and was represented in a variety of different aspects, but believers would see her essential nature in the harmony and balance of the natural order, the ebb and flow growth and decay of life itself She was evoked and celebrated on hills and mountains, these being her seats or thrones on earth. It is interesting to note that many early images of the Goddess have spirals on their breasts, resembling the spiral on the Tor. Spirals also symbolised the coiled serpent or dragon, both regarded as sacred in the old religion. The dragon or serpent represented the natural energies of the earth and the sky – energies which were cooperated with and revered. In the Shakti cults of southeast Asia and China, dragons and serpents were associated with clouds and rain, and the Sumerian goddess Tiamat was a sea-serpent and Great Waters goddess. The Greek Mother of all things was the serpent Eurynome, who laid the world-egg. The dragon was also regarded as a manifestation of the psyche in which the real and the imaginary are blurred and are, as in nature, only different aspects of life.
Celts and Druids
Around the third century BC, the Celts founded two lake villages at Glastonbury and Meare. Their burial ground was called Ynys Witrin, an old British name meaning Isle of Glass. Also in Celtic legend the name Avalon occurs, derived, it seems, from Avalloc or Avallach –a Celtic demigod who ruled the Underworld. However, Avalon also signifies apple-orchard or isle of apples, very apt for the cider-making county of Somerset. Apples were associated with the Goddess in many mythologies and with a western paradise where the sacred apple tree is guarded by the serpent or dragon. Some names for this paradise garden derive from an ancient root word meaning apple.
According to pagan British as well as Celtic lore, Avalon was the meeting-place of the Dead – the point where they passed on to another level of existence. Not only was Avalon a hill surrounded by water, but it was also linked with Caer Sidi – the Faeries' Glass Mountain or Spiral Castle where the natural energies of the earth met with the supernatural power of death. In very ancient times Caer Sidi was described as the abode of Cerridwen, the enchantress who possessed the Cauldron of Wisdom, a goddess with powers of prophecy and magic.
The remnants of stones scattered around the lower slopes of the Tor point to yet another possible use of this hill. It could have been used as a moon observatory in conjunction with the threading of the maze, for there is a good deal of evidence connecting megalithic stones with Druid initiation ceremonies.
To many the key document on the whole question of Glastonbury is the Life of St Collen by a Welsh saint of 650 AD. The manuscript tells the story of a Christian hermit living in a cell on the Tor who is visited by two emissaries of the Faery King Gwyn Ap Nudd. They persuade him to visit their king on the summit of the Tor. Because the hermit believes faeries to be demons, he takes holy water with him. He enters the other world of the king's castle, refuses to eat what is offered him, splashes holy water everywhere and immediately the castle and faeries disappear.
During the sixth and seventh centuries, a mass of Celtic sagas appeared concerning the heroes of Britain. These sagas linked the Faery King Gwyn with the Glass Island, and also with Annwn – the Celtic land of Faery, King Arthur, and the cauldron of plenty. However, the earliest reference to the Tor is in the Charter of St Patrick compiled around the middle of the thirteenth century. It mentions two lay brothers, a fact which suggests the beginning of a monastic settlement on the Tor, and if not that, then it at least points to a Christian interest in the place.
Arthurian associations
The oldest story connecting King Arthur with Glastonbury is told by a monk of Llancarfan, called Caradoc, in his Life of Gildas. Queen Guinevere was kidnapped by Melwas, king of Summer Land (Somerset) who kept her at Glastonbury. Arthur arrived to rescue her with soldiers from Devon and Cornwall, but was hampered by the watery country. A treaty was arranged between the two so that Arthur and Melwas ended their quarrel in the church of St Mary–the Old Church – and Guinevere was handed back to Arthur. Glastonbury Tor would have been an obvious place for Milwas to have a fort, and excavations on the summit point to a hillfort of that period.
In a pre-Christian version of The Quest of the Holy Grail, namely the Welsh poem Spoils of Annwn which occurs in the Book of Taliesin, King Arthur and his company enter Annwn, the realm of Gwyn Ap Nudd, to bring back a miraculous cauldron of inspiration and plenty. The Tor is featured as the Corbenic Castle (Grail Castle) where the procession to the heavily-guarded grail or cauldron takes place. As the cauldron was associated in those times with fertility and plenty, it is very possible that an ancient fertility ritual was performed there, traces of which survive in the later legends of the Holy Grail. Another link between the Grail and the Tor is the saying that if a rainbow is seen over the Tor, someone has seen the Holy Grail.
In Arthurian legend Avalon was also the home of Morgan le Fay, a Celtic goddess or Faerie Queen, but she was more commonly regarded as Arthur's sister. Her name occurs in Celtic Europe as Fata Morgana in Italy and as Morgain la Fée in France. As Fata Morgana, she lived beneath the waters of a lake, leading one to suppose that the Lady of the Lake in Arthurian mythology and Morgan le Fay were at one time one and the same goddess. In volume one of her Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood, the author Merlin Stone draws yet another parallel:
The powerful Fata Morgana was but another name for the holy goddess Fortuna... and there are those who say that Fata and Fortuna were but other names for the Three who were known as The Fates, for are not Fata, Pay and Faerie simply other ways of saying Fate?

No comments:

Blog Widget by LinkWithin